The greatest workforce crisis of NHS, UK

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The greatest workforce crisis of NHS, UK


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An article published in the BMJ (Aug 2022) has stated that the NHS and social care systems in England are facing a fight for viability right here, right now. (Photo: Flickr/ Elliott Brown)

Tue. 30 August 2022


The National Health Service (NHS), founded in 1948, is going through the greatest workforce crisis in its history.

BBC, UK, and British Dental Association (BDA) did the most comprehensive research on access to NHS dental care by contacting 7,000 dentists across the UK.

The findings of the above survey revealed some key challenges Britons are facing in accessing essential dental care:

  • 9 in 10 NHS dental practices across the UK are not accepting new adult patients for treatment
  • 8 in 10 NHS practices are not accepting children for treatment
  • No dentists are taking on adult patients for treatment in a third of the UK's more than 200 council areas, places as big as Lancashire, Norfolk, Devon, and Leeds.
  • The problem was worst in the southwest of England, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North West, where 98% of practices were not accepting new adult NHS patients.
  • Access was best in London, where almost a quarter of practices were taking on new adult NHS patients.
  • 1 in 10 local authorities did not have any practices taking on under-16s for NHS treatment, despite children in full-time education being entitled to completely free care on the health service.
  • About 200 practices said they would take on a child under the NHS only if a parent signed up as a private patient.

The lack of NHS appointments has led people to drive hundreds of miles in search of treatment, pull out their own teeth without anesthesia, resort to making their own improvised dentures and restrict their long-term diets to little more than soup.

NHS crisis headlines

NHS England spends about £3bn a year on dental care, though that sum has remained flat for some time. COVID-19, Brexit, and the UK government's underfunding of NHS dental services have combined to create a "critical" situation that is likely to worsen before it gets better.

The UK NHS dentists' numbers fell from 23,733 (end of 2020) to 21,544 (end of January 2022), the lowest in a decade.

"Dental deserts" are emerging across England after more than 2,000 dentists quit the NHS last year, leaving millions of people struggling to get even essential dental check-ups.

Given that each dentist has a caseload of ~ 2,000 patients, the workforce depletion has left an estimated 4 million people without access to NHS care.

"NHS dentistry has become "a rotten system" that lets down patients and deters dental care practitioners," said the BDA, representing the UK's 42,000 dentists.

Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association's General Dental Practice Committee:

"NHS dentistry is at a tipping point, with millions unable to get the care they need and more dentists leaving with every day that passes. We are seeing the results of years of chronic neglect, set into overdrive by the pressures of the pandemic. Nothing we have heard from the government to date gives us any confidence that this service has a future. Without real reform and fair funding, NHS dentistry will die, and our patients will pay the price."

A health select committee report has estimated that NHS and social care services will require an additional 475,000 and 490,000 employees by the early 2030s. However, the report also highlighted that the government has no credible plan to meet the requirement.



  1. Press release by British Dental Association
  2. Blog by Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee
  3. The Observer view on the existential NHS crisis that demands a PM with a plan - Observer editorial
  4. David Oliver: Politicians’ abject failure to tackle the existential crisis in the NHS - Opinion in BMJ

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